Skip to main content

The idea to make indigenous history part of the daily morning announcements was put forward by the board’s aboriginal community advisory committee.Getty Images/iStockphoto

Students at Canada's largest school board are starting their day by learning about their province's indigenous history.

Along with playing the national anthem, the Toronto District School Board requires all of its schools to read four sentences, as part of the morning announcements, that acknowledges aboriginal people and their land.

"I would like to acknowledge that this school is situated upon traditional territories," the statement reads. It then names the various territories and the treaty that was signed for the parcel of land.

It concludes with: "I also recognize the enduring presence of aboriginal peoples on this land."

The move by the TDSB is partly in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report last year that recommended students be taught about the history of First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The commission heard testimony from survivors who were taken from their families and forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools, where they were stripped of their cultural identity and subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The school board first began acknowledging indigenous lands at its meetings. The idea to extend it to all schools this academic year and make it part of the daily morning announcements was put forward by the board's aboriginal community advisory committee.

"I think it's really significant," said school trustee Pamela Gough, who sits on the committee. "I'm strongly supportive of the fact that indigenous heritage needs to be recognized in all of our schools, and the fact that we in Canada have three founding cultures … and that the third founding culture has been written out of our history for so many years."

Ms. Gough said that by including a brief history in the morning announcements, it will likely spark curiosity among young students and lead to classroom discussions.

"We now know through the Truth and Reconciliation report and other reports that the indigenous people are still very much with us, have suffered greatly and now it's time to make amends," Ms. Gough said.

Among the recommendations from the commission was for all levels of government to produce curriculum on residential schools and the contributions of aboriginal people, and for universities to educate future teachers on how to integrate indigenous history into their classrooms.

The TDSB is not alone in making the morning announcement on aboriginal lands mandatory. Trustees at the Peel District School Board are expected to vote on a motion next week to do the same at all of its schools. The board already acknowledges indigenous land at its meetings and events.

"All students, not just our [First Nations, Métis and Inuit] students, need to understand the true history of the First Nations in Canada, including residential schools, and that is not the history that we have taught," Peel's director Tony Pontes said in a speech at the start of the school year. "We will better resource our schools and guide this work."

Duke Redbird, who sits on the TDSB's aboriginal community advisory committee and is also a curator of the board's indigenous arts collection, said that including indigenous history in the morning announcements is a good first step.

"It only makes sense," Mr. Redbird said. "I think the morning announcements open the doors to teaching moments and a process of learning over a school year. Many students will share stories from their own families and from their own backgrounds."